Crime intelligence officer's bugging case a landmark

08 May 2016 - 02:00 By MONICA LAGANPARSAD

A court case dealing with the tapping of two Sunday Times investigative reporters’ phones has cast a spotlight on threats to the privacy of South African journalists.

Man with cellphone. File photo
Man with cellphone. File photo
Image: iStock

Murray Hunter of the Right2Know Campaign, which focuses on freedom of expression and access to information, said the case before the Specialised Commercial Crimes Court in Pretoria was the first in which a former crime intelligence officer had been charged with illegal surveillance

Officer Bongani Cele, who is accused of falsifying information in order to bug the cellphones of Mzilikazi wa Afrika and Stephan Hofstatter, appeared in court on Friday.

Cele faces two charges of contravening the Regulation of Communication and Provision of Communication-Related Information Act, or Rica.

He is alleged to have lied to a judge to get an interception warrant by matching the two journalists’ phone numbers to fictitious names in an affidavit and suggesting that the warrant was required to probe a criminal case.

The case was postponed to September 12.

Sunday Times editor Bongani Siqoko said: ‘‘Every media freedom activist should be excited that, finally, someone is standing trial for bugging phones belonging to journalists.

‘‘Freedom means respecting journalists’ rights to gather information freely, without fear of who may be listening to them, so that they may perform what is required of them — which is to inform the public.”

Hunter said the tapping of journalists’ phones was one of the most significant threats facing media freedom.

‘‘There is a growing concern that communication surveillance ... identifies their sources,” said Hunter.